Telcos form new group

Local telecommunications service providers on Apr. 24 will formally launch a new industry organization which they formed after pulling out of the Philippine Electronics and Telecommunications Federation (PETEF) in December last year.

The new organization will be known as the Philippine Chamber of Telecommunications (PCT), which will replace the older Telecommunications Operators of the Philippines (TOP) put up in 1995 by the then newly formed carriers who wanted to have a stronger voice in competing against dominant carrier Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT).

The same founding members of TOP are spearheading the formation of the PCT, which will be formally launched on Apr. 24. These include Globe Telecom, Smart Communications Inc., Digital Telecommunications Phils. Inc. (Digitel), Eastern Telecommunications Phils Inc. (ETPI), Express Telecommunications Co. Inc. (Extelcom), Capitol Wireless Inc. (Capwire), Bayan Telecommunications Phils. Inc. (BayanTel), Isla Communications Inc. (Islacom), Philippine Telegraph and Telephone Inc. (PT&T) and the Philippine Global Communications Inc. (Philcom).

Unlike in 1995, however, the formation of the PCT is no longer intended to give smaller carriers a common voice that will be strong enough to allow them to compete with PLDT. This time, these local carriers are, in fact, teaming up with PLDT to establish the organization.

This development typifies much of the changes that have happened in the local telecommunications industry since the government decided to deregulate the industry in the early ’90s.

In this deregulated environment, the other carriers have also grown bigger. Some have merged. Globe has swallowed up Islacom, while PLDT has acquired both Smart and Piltel.

Aside from PLDT, the Philippine Association of Private Telephone Companies (Paptelco) is also joining the PCT. The Paptelco is the umbrella organization of some 48 private telephone companies operating throughout the country.

“(The TCP represents) the real Philippine telecommunications body,” said Rogelio Quevedo, Smart vice president and head of legal, external and carrier relations.

He explained that the TCP will give telephone operators a single voice and represent the true interests of the phone companies. Local carriers decided to withdraw their membership in PETEF because they felt that the federation — which is composed of some 17 industry associations, 95 corporate members, and 32 individuals — had failed to lobby for the interests of the phone providers.

Quevedo said PETEF’s membership has become so diverse that the interests of the telephone providers were no longer being represented by the organization.

“PETEF’s membership has already become diluted and it no longer represented us,” he said in an interview with Computerworld Philippines.

He pointed out that PETEF has become an organization of telecommunications suppliers who have different interests from them.

Romulo Agatep, current president of PETEF, confirmed in a separate interview that the local carriers were not happy because the federation often could not come up with a common position in certain issues because of its diverse membership.

For instance, in a recent dispute involving PLDT and the Philippine Internet Service Organization (PISO) concerning access and subscription rates of PLDT’s DSL (digital subscriber line) services, PETEF was unable to make a formal position because the two were both members of the federation.

Much earlier, the PETEF also failed to make a common stand on the convergence bill because of the diverse membership of the industry group. The telephone providers were pushing PETEF to lobby for the bill but other members of the federation were against it.

In a previous interview, Maricor Akol, a former president of the PETEF, said a series of meetings with TOP president Epitacio Marquez and other officials of the organization was scheduled early this year to convince the organization to renew its ties with the PETEF. None of the meetings, however, pushed through.

Agatep said he had met with TOP officials separately to discuss the possible return of the phone companies to PETEF, but the carriers were more interested in strengthening TOP.

He added that local carriers are still welcome to return to PETEF even if they form a new organization of their own.

However, returning to PETEF might be the farthest thing on the minds of the phone companies at present.

“We don’t see any reason to join PETEF (again) because it doesn’t represent us anymore,” said Quevedo.